What is a “marginalized writer” and what does #OwnVoices mean?
A marginalized writer is someone who belongs to a marginalized group, such as a person of color, a person who identifies as LGBTQ+, a person with a disability, etc. #OwnVoices is a hashtag to signify that the marginalized writer is writing about a character with an identity that they share. (Ex. A Filipino writer creating a Filipino character.)
Do marginalized writers get preferential treatment in publishing?
No. In certain categories (Mainly YA and MG) marginalized writers may be considered more “interesting” in the slushpile, which may grab an agent’s attention depending on what they are looking for. But simply being marginalized will not guarantee a book deal. If the book is something that does not resonate with the agent as something they can sell or it is not up to standard, it will be rejected just like everybody else’s. In short, being marginalized and writing an #OwnVoices book may intrigue the agent into reading the query, but it does not guarantee representation by any means.
Can non-marginalized writers write marginalized characters?
Yes! And they are encouraged to do so, particularly in the YA and MG categories. There is a debate, however, in how a non-marginalized writer is “allowed” to write their characters. Some marginalized writers believe that it is okay for a white cishet author to include characters who are not a part of their group as long as they do not attempt to write about the experience of what it is like. (For example, there is a huge difference between writing a positively-written supporting Black character and writing a character like Starr from “The Hate U Give.”) These writers claim that the stories of people like them should be written by them first and foremost, and that white cishet writers are “stealing” opportunities for marginalized writers to share their experiences through stories.
Some marginalized writers believe that people can write whatever they want as long as they do the research, while others think that white cishet writers should not be permitted to create marginalized characters at all.
It is an ongoing debate that, in today’s social climate, does not seem to be settled any time soon.
Why are some marginalized writers wary about non-marginalized writers portraying characters who are different than them?
At the end of the day, it goes back to white cishet writers being favored in the previous generation’s publishing world. People in all marginalized groups have struggled to get published since pretty much the beginning of time and have had to sit by while white cishet writers mishandle portrayals of characters like them over and over again. It is a problem that is still happening to this day, which, in part, caused many agents to look for #OwnVoices works.
Marginalized readers have seen people like them being written in stereotypical and offensive ways, which only reinforced the public’s perception of them. Many of us are tired of other people telling our stories and getting it wrong.
What can I do to write a better marginalized character?
Before beginning to write a character and the plot to throw them in, do as much reading as you can about their identity. Talk to members of that group either in real life or online. Consult a marginalized critique partner or hire a sensitivity reader to go over your first draft with you so that you can be aware of any harmful elements in your story. Write a story in which marginalized readers will see themselves in your characters.